We have a government. It has no stars well known to non-Israelis. No heroic general or fluent English speaker has a major role.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert operated like a well practiced politician, who had slowly climbed the ranks from minor to major positions over the course of 30 years. Charisma is not his style, but he seems to know what he has to do, and how much he can do without getting into trouble.
His party did not do as well as he initially hoped when he replaced the comatose Ariel Sharon. The surveys showed Kadima dropping from an expected 44 seats to the 29 that it won. Other parties also performed poorly, except for the Pensioners who surprised everyone, including themselves, by winning seven seats.
Olmert started his coalition with the Pensioners and Labor, which brought him up to 55 seats, still short of the 61 he needed as a minimum. He offered the head of the Pensioners Party a new portfolio, attached to the prime minister's office, that would deal with pensioners. It is hard to tell what will come of that. The party head is Rafael Eitan, best known in the US as an undesirable character who handled Jonathan Pollard, and then (according to Pollard) abandoned him to the authorities and his life sentence. Pollard and his wife brought suit against Eitan's appointment as a minister, and is threatening to reveal sensitive information about Israel on account of the ministerial appointment.
The most controversial appointment Olmert agreed to was the assignment of the Defense Ministry to the head of Labor, Amir Peretz. Peretz initially demanded Finance, but Olmert was not inclined to give the economy over to an avowed socialist. Labor stood to be the essential coalition partner, and Olmert had to give its head something prestigious. So it was Defense.
The problem is, Peretz has spent his career in the Labor Federation, and does not seem to know much about defense. He is a dynamic and articulate bargainer and campaigner as long as he is speaking Hebrew. It is an exaggeration of his talent with language to say that he speaks English with difficulty. A leading columnist for Ha'aretz, usually a supporter of Labor, asked what it would sound like when Peretz had to meet heads of the American defense establishment and speak to them about Iran's nuclear capacity, its transfer of conventional armaments to Hezbollah in Lebanon, the prospects of any deal with the Palestinian government of Hamas, or American investments in one or another of Israel's high-tech security inventions.
Another unpleasant possibility is that Peretz might show himself dedicated to what is held by some left-wing members of Labor, i.e., a continuing certainty that terror is a function of Palestinian misery, and that peace is possible with them, if only the IDF does not hurt them.
The Sephardi ultra-Orthodox party, SHAS provided the finish to Olmert's government, bringing its support in the Knesset to 67 seats (i.e., a clear majority of the 120 seat parliament). Still warm is the likelihood of Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox Torah Judaism joining the coalition, with another six seats. Commentators give lesser probabilities to left wing Meretz (5 seats) and right wing Israel Our Home (11 seats) signing on for one or another concession.
To get SHAS on board, Olmert had to agree that it would not have to support his key promise of withdrawing Jewish settlements in the West Bank that would be on the other side of the security barrier. But as I note above, Olmert does what he has to. He might still have enough support to enact his program in the Knesset with the support of Meretz (even if it is outside the government) and the support or abstention of one or more Arab party, but those are open issues.
Shimon Peres is back in office, a minister with responsibility for developing the Galilee and the Negev. It's not the stuff of another Nobel Prize for Peace, but not bad for a politician in his mid-80s, and not likely to be a position where he can do a great deal of damage.
The important ministries of Finance, Foreign Affairs, Interior, Justice, Internal Security, and Education are held by Kadima or Labor figures well known in Israel, and thought to be reliable. It does not seem to be a government that will do dramatic things quickly. But the major issue remains security, and what Israel does there will depend largely on what happens in Iran and Hamas-led Palestine. We hope for the best from Amir Peretz. He is smart, perhaps smart enough to listen to generals and others who know more about defense than he does.